Running with the Herd – Bison vs Telford Tigers 27/2/16

EPL

Basingstoke Bison 3-1 Telford Tigers

Connolly x2 (1pp)…….. Davies

Jarolin

Of a different stripe: The Bison headed into their single game weekend without the usual absentees as well as the suspended Joe Greener who sat out the second game of a ban for accumulation of penalty points and Alan Lack also remains on the sidelines. However the Herd welcomed Ryan Watt back to the line up. Tomas Hiadlovsky started in net with Jon Baston sitting out. The Tigers were without some big name players in Jason Silverthorn and Jonathan Weaver missed out along with Joe Graham, choosing to start Tom Murdy over Sam Gospel.

The game started with a real physical bent as both sides were throwing some good, if occasionally borderline hits with Macauley Haywood, Miroslav Vantroba and Dan Lackey the ones really getting in on the act.

Andrei Makrov had a good chance that was blockered away by Hiadlovsky but it was the Bison who would strike first. For all the hitting and physicality, it was the skill and skating of Ciaran Long that created the chance as the Bison forward drew defenders to him as he took the Tigers’ zone. With 3 men focussing in on Long, he shipped the puck left towards Aaron Connolly who took a step and fired past the glove of Murdy at 03:27 to give the hosts the lead.

Dan Scott took a seat for interference as he impeded Shaun Thompson’s progress but the powerplay unit never really got going for the Herd. Shortly after Scott’s return, Peter Szabo earned an enforced sit down for hooking and the hosts managed to strike again. It was a relatively simple manoeuvre as the puck was cycled up to the point for Declan Balmer to blast goalwards and Connolly’s well placed tip took the puck past Murdy at 08:26 for a 2-0 Bison lead.

The teams traded chances and hits as the period continued. The game was being played with a decent pace and with Mr Pickett keeping his whistle in his pocket for the most part, the game had a hard hitting edge to it but neither side was going too far with their physicality which made for an entertaining period of hockey in this writer’s opinion.

The Tigers had woken up after the second goal and were also carving out some good chances through Sam Zajac and Max Birbraer but Hiadlovsky was equal to what the Tigers were throwing at him. Blahoslav Novak made a great move to split the Bison defence but he was stopped by a textbook slash from Shaun Thompson which sent the Tigers to the powerplay but despite of some good passing and a canon of a shot from Makrov, the Tigers failed to score.

The teams traded chances for the remainder of the period but the Bison were still 2-0 up when the buzzer sounded to signal the end of the first.

The second period started with the Tigers continuing to press to get themselves on the board as both teams had opportunities at either end. Rene Jarolin had a shot at Murdy’s 5 hole turned away and Martin Ondrej’s point shot was kicked away by Hiadlovsky.

It was the Tigers who would get the best of chances when Jarolin was called for crosschecking. I was originally wondering if Mr Pickett had called Peter Szabo for a dive as he went down rather easily under a push from the Bison’s import forward but it was the visitors who got the powerplay. Again the Tigers got some really good puck movement but could not find a way past Hiadlovsky.

As Jarolin returned, Ryan Watt was sent to the box for hooking giving Telford another powerplay but the best chance fell to the Bison as Jarolin and Karpov managed to break out. Jarolin played the drop pass to Karpov but the Czech forward could not find a way to stuff the puck past Murdy. The Bison managed to see off the powerplay and return to full strength.

The penalties continued to come thick and fast. Behind the play Tomas Karpov and Joe Miller started yapping at each other, Miller threw his gloves off and then he and Karpov proceeded to stare at each other. Both players ended up with roughing penalties but the Bison were shortly on a powerplay as Aaron Connolly drew an interference call from Marcus Maynard. Sadly for the home fans, nothing came from the advantage and both sides returned to full strength with no damage done on the scoreboard.

The Bison got another powerplay as Martin Ondrej went for roughing but the best chance, a tic tac toe play from Jarolin to Karpov to Long saw the final shot go wide. That powerplay ended and Telford got their own chance as Declan Balmer was called for hooking but again lovely set up play couldn’t get that final touch. With 7 minor penalties handed out in the period, the special-teams-fest that was the second period ended with no change to the score and the Bison still 2-0 ahead.

The start of the final period saw both teams still try to poke holes in the other’s defence. Tomas Karpov and Andrei Makrov went close in the early going but neither could find a way to score. The Bison seemed to be looking to dig in and try and hold the free flowing attack of the Tigers at bay. The Tigers had the speed to break at a moment’s notice and clearly had the talent but seemed to be lacking the spark in the final third, that killer final touch to get themselves on the board.

The shots continued to come as Zajac shot wide and Dan Lackey was set up in the slot but Murdy was square to the shot. As the Bison worked the puck to the front of the Tigers’ net Marcus Maynard cleaned out Matt Towalski, sending the Bison man flying into the goal frame and Murdy in the process which earned the Tigers’ defenceman a checking from behind 2+10 penalty. The Bison managed to get a bit of offence going and thought they were getting another penalty when Aaron Connolly took a stick in the face but none came. As the powerplay wound down, the puck sat in a crowd of players in front of Murdy. Just as the Tigers returned to full strength there was enough of a gap for Rene Jarolin to take a swing at the puck and slot it past Murdy at 51:31 for 3-0.

The Bison’s tails were up but the shutout was broken moments later as the Tigers’ speed finally told. Blahoslav Novak’s pace took him into the zone and drew the defenders. His shot was saved by Hiadlovsky but sat up for an easy tap in for Dan Davies at 52:29.

The Tigers suddenly felt like they could get back into the game and kept pressing. When Hiadlovsky came out to clear the puck and it went out of play, the Tigers screamed for a delay of game penalty which they duly got despite the puck clipping the top of the boards on its way out.

The Tigers put the pressure on but still found no way through. They called the timeout at 57:54 to plan their strategy and left Murdy on the bench for the faceoff. The puck dropped and for some reason Novak decided at that precise moment with his team down by two goals, on the powerplay and with his team’s net empty to jump Joe Baird and start wailing away on the Bison defenceman. It earned the Tigers man a 2 minute roughing call and that pretty much killed the game. The Bison had held on to win the game and took one step closer to the prize.

Sharp focus: If you’d told me at the start of the season that in the home games we’d play against last season’s champions that the Bison would win all 3, I’d have bitten your hand off and probably your wrist. The Bison not only managed to win all three but outscored Telford 16-5 in the process.

This game has really started to drag the title talk away from the horizon to the foreground and in some ways it was a really good showcase of why the Bison are in the position that they are in currently. The system was stuck to and the team showed all the attributes that have made Bison hockey so fun to watch over the current campaign which is that mix of physicality with skill. Telford got frustrated as they couldn’t deal with it, the Bison kept their calm and ran out winners.

Aaron Connolly had his best game in the last couple of weeks, taking both his goals well as well as just never stopping to skate bar the brief moment where he took a stick in the face. However young he might still be, in the business end of the season the Bison are going to need the captain to lead from the front and this game was exactly what was needed from the team’s on ice leader.

Tomas Hiadlovsky also had a very impressive game. Whilst he didn’t face many shots (just 21) there were a string of good saves that gave the side in front of him the chance to play their game their way.

One player I want to mention is Dan Lackey. Since his full time step up into the Bison roster, I’ve been really impressed with him. He’s mainly being used as a space maker for Karpov but it seems to be working for both of them. Lackey knows what his strengths are and plays to them. He gets into positions to give Karpov an outlet and whilst he hasn’t scored since his full signing, I do think he’ll get one before the season ends.

Like many others at the final buzzer, I was really pleased with the overall team performance last night. Where the game against the Phantoms a couple of weeks ago left me raging at how the Bison had performed in a big game, this one was the opposite. When they needed to pull out a win against a form team, they put them handily to the sword. As I said on Twitter recently, this roster is past the point of dare to dream. We are now into the realm of dare to do.

A word on our opponents: I quite like watching the Telford Tigers. Some of the players, some of the play is just wonderful to watch. Recent signing Andrei Makrov might be 39 years old but you can tell the guy is quality from watching him play. Phil Hill, also good. Sam Zajac was a really good choice for man of the match and I’d have him back in Basingstoke in a heart beat. There’s so much talent in this team and watching the Tigers’ top PK unit move the puck is almost hypnotising.

The problem with Telford however was fully evident last night; they played like a bunch of really talented individuals but they didn’t play that much as a team. It felt like they were going through the motions at times but never seemed to get much going. There were the flashes of individual brilliance, there were moments but there weren’t enough moments and that’s what cost them. Combined with some of the bigger names not stepping up, they were on to a loser. That and they didn’t really put enough shots on Hiadlovsky didn’t help either.

The frustration was clear to see from some players as they went down the route of trying to rough up the Bison a bit and phase them but it didn’t work. When the Tigers did get a goal (which they probably did deserve on balance of play) and had a golden chance to get back into the tie, Blahoslav Novak lost his cool. People can call Joe Baird a chicken for covering up but Novak didn’t square up to Baird and say “time to go”. At 2 goals down in a game that Telford needed to win to try and keep their shrinking title hopes alive with the goalie pulled and on a powerplay, Novak lost his cool and blew the chance of a comeback. Tom Watkins called the Tigers’ performance “pathetic” on the Telford website but will there be any consequence to that? We await tonight’s game with Guildford to see.

Lowlight of the night: The cross checking call to Jarolin, mainly because I think Szabo went to ground far too easily.

Highlight of the night: Connolly’s first goal was a beauty from build up to finish.

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